Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The audiobook version of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton, was an amazing listening experience. I enjoyed this book so much, I immediately purchased the text version so I could read it again myself. Stiefvater is a writer- wholly and truly. This story flowed flawlessly and I was captivated by Stiefvater's wit, humor, and talent for detail.

The Raven Boys takes place in a modern day Henrietta, VA. Blue Sargent, the female protagonist, is the only child of a for-real psychic and the only non-psychic member of an all psychic family. Every member of Blue's family has foreseen that if Blue ever kisses her true love, he will die. Trippy.

The Raven Boys are a group of (mostly) wealthy high school boys who attend an exclusive and prestigious college preparatory school called Aglionby Academy. These are the kinds of boys Blue avoids like the plague. However, not every boy at Aglionby fits the shallow, egotistical stereotype that Blue has boxed them in to.

Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah are Raven Boys who have a very strange passion. They want to discover a spiritual ley line in Henrietta and wake the spirit of a dead Welsh king. That doesn't exactly sound like a typical Country Club activity. So, of course, a group of boys obsessed with the paranormal will cross paths with the daughter of a psychic...especially when they seek out psychic advice for their supernatural quest...

The Raven Boys is the first of a quartet called The Raven Cycle. Stiefvater weaves a tale full of mystery, emotion, and wonder. You will fall in love with the exquisitely developed characters in this well-told story.

Five out of five stars. Ages 14+ because of language (but I would let MY kids read this in Middle School).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve years ago, Callum Hunt was born to powerful Mage parents. As an infant, he was crippled in a Mage war which also claimed his mother’s life. His father, who blames magic for the death of his wife, was left to raise Call alone.

The rule in Callum’s home is that Magic is evil and should never be performed, but Call has been born with magical skill. Call’s father is adamant that he is never to use this power and wants him to go so far as to purposely fail his Iron Trial, which is the admittance test to magic school at the Magisterium. However, certain destinies cannot be thwarted.

Let me say first that I did enjoy this story. However there are some definite similarities to Harry Potter that are hard to see past.
1. Two boys and a girl are the main characters.
2. A child survives an attack in which everyone else dies, leaving that child with an injury and strange powers.
3. A former magic school student grows up to be the most evil mage in history.

However, I think there are enough differences to make this a series worth reading. Take the Harry Potter plot and scramble it up in a blender- and there you have the Iron Trial. Clare and Black keep you guessing and competently maintain the mystery throughout the book. By the end of the story, I was very engaged and ready for the sequel.

Four out of five stars. Ages 11 and up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Egg and SpoonEgg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gregory Maguire writes as a part of the universal weaving of folklore. His tales are spiritual and surreal as they spin the web of the human experience through adventures of evolution and magic. You don't just read a Gregory Maguire book, you surrender to it- literally cozying up to its warmth and mysticism. His stories are microcosms in which one willingly gets lost in order to feel something otherworldly.

Egg and Spoon is a gorgeous tale of the human condition and the power of love to motivate one's goodness. Told in Russia near the end of the Romanov Dynasty, Egg and Spoon paints a picture of the extreme socioeconomic inequities and the beautiful folklore tradition of the time. This is a child's story told with such mastery that anyone willing to apply their mind, and capitulate their imagination, will be drawn into its power.

Elena Rudina is a peasant girl from a starving village. Her father has died, her mother is deathly ill, and her brothers are taken away for servitude and soldiering. She has completely run out of food and hope when a luxurious train filled with nobility is forced to station in her village.

Ekaterina is a wealthy girl from a noble house. Her parents rarely see her. She has been pulled from her boarding school in London to make a journey to St. Petersburg with her Great Aunt to meet the eligible godson of the Tsar. She wishes she had just been left in England. She doesn't think much of anything about peasants, until the day her train breaks down in a destitute village.

Baba Yaga, The Firebird, and the Icedragon are storybook characters in the folklore of Elena and Ekaterina's world. Believing in witches, dragons and wish-granting birds means giving into fancies and acting like a child. When one is starving to death or journeying to meet the Tsar, one doesn't have time for such childish nonsense.

But sometimes, one lightning strike can change everything you thought you knew and one adventure can change everything you thought you were.

Cue trading places.

Maguire maintains the standard of his mastery in this tale of children, and magic, and what makes life worth living.

Five Stars. Recommended for ages 11 and up.

Children, keep a dictionary next to you as you read this, it is worth the journey.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately, the MilkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing this small book proves as true is that Neil Gaiman has not forgotten what it is to be a little boy.

I decided to read this book (which was a gift for my son) after I witnessed something rather miraculous. My son likes to read, but usually requires some encouragement to keep at it for more than 20 minutes at a time. Upon opening Fortunately the Milk, my 9 year old boy became glued to the spot and did not close the book until it was completed. His face was pale and his eyes were large (as it was past his bedtime) but he insisted upon relating his favorite parts to me before going to sleep.

I promised him I would interrupt the other books I was reading in order to read this one right away.

Fortunately the Milk (FTM) is a little over 100 pages, many of them being illustrated. It reads a bit like a Roald Dahl book that married a Dr. Seuss story. Specifically, I was reminded of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street. FTM is chock-full of nonsense and stream of consciousness story-telling. It has the ridiculousness that young children find completely diverting.

When a boy and his little sister discover that there is no milk for their cereal, their father goes out to buy them some...only he is gone for "ages and ages." As explanation for why he took so long, their father relates a fantastical tale involving aliens, dinosaurs, pirates and time-travel.

FTM is perfect for elementary-aged children between ages 7 to 11 (give or take). The humorous illustrations help to keep hesitant readers engaged in a fast-paced adventure story. FTM is actually a short story, as it isn't divided into chapters, and is too long to be a picture book. It is the perfect length for the wiggly, squirmy type that don't often sit still long enough to read. Gaiman accurately captures the spirit of a child's imagination while the illustrator, Skottie Young accentuates the story with images that are humorous while not being cutesy.

If I were a 9 year old boy, I would probably give this tale 5 stars. However, having read almost all of Gaiman's works and knowing what he is capable of, I gave this book 4 stars. I am sort of like that professor that only gives an A- because to give an A would mean perfection.

I HIGHLY recommend this book for any children's or elementary school library.